On June 25th 2014, Asian Community AIDS Services (ACAS) kicked off World Pride by participating in three panels at North America’s very first World Pride Human Rights Conference (hosted by the University of Toronto).
1. ACAS’s first panel titled Intersectional Approaches to HIV/AIDS and Toronto’s Racialized Communities, moderated by Dr. Alan Li, took place on June 25th. The panel was composed of executive directors from four of Toronto’s leading ethnocultural HIV/AIDS organizations: Noulmook Sutdhibhasilp of ACAS, Shannon Ryan of Black Coalition for Aids Prevention (BlackCap), Vijaya Chikermane of Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP) and Fanta Ongoiba of African Partnership against AIDS (APAA).
Though they did not officially adopt the term “intersectionality” in their work, the panel agreed that Intersectionality is a tool for analysis which helps them understand how different sets of identities and inequalities influence a person’s risk to HIV; how they are treated and live with the disease; and how our medical, political and social systems respond to the epidemic.
The panel centred on challenging the “one size fits all” approach prevalent in the HIV/AIDS service sector; it also highlighted the importance of culturally and linguistically appropriate HIV/AIDS services for Toronto’s racialized communities.
In addition, the panel also discussed the difficulties of addressing issues within complicated and diverse racialized communities—issues based on gender, sexual orientation, class, migration and culture call for expansive and fluid programs and services. Some of these programs include:
- ASAAP’s Brownkiss.ca: a website for South Asians that focuses on sexual health, feminism, healthy relationships and story sharing.
- BlackCAP’s 3MV (Many Men Many Voices), provides black gay men with training and information to make healthy sexual decisions.
- ACAS’s Queer Asian Youth Program organizes social outings and educational workshops for queer Asian youth (many who are new to Canada).
- APAA’s work in providing HIV/AIDS support and services to religious aspects of the African community.
2. ACAS’s second panel, titled Asian Trans* Women in Toronto: Community Mobilization and Skills Building at Grassroots Level took place on June 26th. The panel was moderated and facilitated by ACAS staff Men’s Sexual Health Coordinator Richard Utama, Volunteer Program Coordinator Trisha Steinberg and Women’s Outreach Worker Bebe Kho. The workshop was held in an open-conversation format where participants and facilitators openly engaged and interacted with each other. Attendees gained valuable and honest insights about some of Asian Trans women’s experiences on their journeys navigating the Toronto trans and broader communities.
Issues covered at the workshop ranged from family, dating, love and sex, to government services, policies and laws. Those in attendance were able to gain an insider view about some of Asian trans women’s dating experiences, how the fear of personal safety at transphobic workplaces have motivated Asian transwomen at taking up advocacy work in the social services sector, and some of their proactive approaches at educating staff at the workplace about trans issues using the Human Rights Code of Ontario to effect systemic change. The panel provided a crucial and necessary space for Asian Trans women issues to be discussed and heard.
While there has been a rise in Trans women’s issues in the media (thanks to Janet Mock and Laverne Cox), Trans women of color still face a disproportionate amount of violence and discrimination. Though some of the stories shared at the workshop about Asian trans women contained certain levels of vulnerability, many also highlighted the resiliency and strengths of the Asian Trans community in the face of discrimination and oppression. Asian Trans women are resisting, organizing and creating spaces for themselves in Toronto and they require the acceptance and support from the rest of the LGBT community and society.
3. ACAS’s final panel took place on June 27th. The panel, titled Asian LGBT Diaspora in Canada, featured prominent leaders of the Asian LGBT community and was moderated by Noulmook Sutdhibhasilp. The panel included: Dr. Alan Li, Andre Goh, Christian Hui, Julia Lo and Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam. All of the panelists have been and/or are involved with the Asian LGBT movement and community throughout different points in their lives.
To showcase the diverse and rich history of the Asian LGBT community and its movement, the panel was structured to compliment the diverse experiences and work of the panelists.
- Julia Lo spoke about the impact of programs such as ACAS`s Queer Asian Youth for young and newcomer Asians struggling to find community in Canada.
- Andre Goh shared his experiences as an immigrant from Malaysia and the complexities of finding community in Canada as well as within diverse Asian communities.
- Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam highlighted the importance of Asian LGBT visibility and representation in the media; she also stressed the importance of supporting LGBT Asian youth.
- Dr. Alan Li`s talk centred on the history and present state of LGBT Asian activism within the Asian community and the gay community.
- Christian Hui, ended the panel by sharing his experiences of HIV/AIDS activism and the importance of organizations such as ACAS in providing information, awareness and support to Asian communities and those living with HIV/AIDS.
One common theme pointed out by each panelist was the importance of organizations like ACAS that support LGBT Asian youth; as the next generation of the LGBT Asian community, it is important that they be supported, equipped and prepared with the right tools to face the future.
About the Author: Pride Coordinator Ray Garcia
Ray Garcia is ACAS’s Summer Intern and Pride Coordinator. He enjoys Filipino food, Rihanna and long walks on the beach. He also writes and performs spoken word in his spare time.